SCOURGE OF POVERTY
There is a sense of jubilation in the air over the prospect of India’s economic growth touching the magical 10 per cent in the near future. But a recent national survey brings to light such gloomy realities about the country’s poor that one third of India’s rural population or over 200 million Indians survive on a paltry Rs.12 a day and the urban poor fare slightly better as 30 per cent of them live on Rs.19 a day. But, adding insult to it is a news item that on 4 May 2007 only six M.Ps were present, to start with, in the Lok Sabha, which was "to discuss eradication of hunger in the country"!
There is no other country in the world – not even the developed western economies – which are totally free of the scourge of poverty. But it is not merely poverty but the staggering socio-economic disparity that prevails in India which is heart -wrenching. Picture this: A rustic farmer of Chattisgarh earns Rs. 12 a day, while a fresh graduate from IIM Ahmedabad or Bangalore gets a hefty pay packet of one crore rupees or over Rs. 25,000 a day. An urban poor lives on Rs.19 a day, while a middle-level executive will splurge Rs. 10,000 on a few hours of revelry on a weekend bash. A village family cannot afford to buy a kilogram of potatoes worth Rs.10, but a four-year old city child refuses to go to his Montessori without a 20-gram packet of potatoe wafers costing the same amount.
It is nobody’s case that India’s economy has not made giant strides in the past ten years. Today Indian companies have broken into the international corporate markets, making a large number of major global acquisitions, worth billions of dollars. The country has a huge reserve of foreign exchange. The economic boom has led many economic experts to predict that India will soon emerge as an economic superpower. It is heartening that the country is witnessing an IT revolution and celephones have penetrated even the remotest corner of the country.
So far so good. But is distressing that hundred of farmers are committing suicide and millions of poor are going to bed on empty stomach. Unless all sections of society get even a small share in the development of the country, the economic boom will remain meaningless.
We have created an oasis of prosperity in the vast desert land of misery and shame. And all this has been happening when the heavens have been rent asunder by the cries of socialism until the 1990s and since then globalisation and privatisation. The result: 240 million undernourished people in a country with over a billion people!
Gross and stubborn inequality is incompatible with a just society and we cannot hope to bring it into being until we launch a major attack on the unjustified disparities that still divide us from one another. Some levelling down will be required, but levelling up is far more important. We cannot be content with nothing less than the elimination of poverty as a social problem. It is a formidable task but not an insurmountable objective.
We have to break the mould of custom, selfishness and apathy, which condemns so many of our fellow-countrymen to avoidable indignity and deprivation. To do that we have to recast the mould of politics. In place of envy we must place the politics of compassion; in place of the politics of cupidity, the politics of justice; in place of the politics of opportunism, the politics of principle. Only so can we hope to succeed. Only so, will success be worth having.
This country won its political independence not without a commitment, and that commitment was to emancipate its millions from grinding poverty imposed by the social and economic structure built under colonial rule. Yes, it was a commitment to wipe out the shame of poverty, the gnawing pangs of hunger and the denial of basic amenities.This is the pledge that successive generations of the nation’s leadership have taken but have made only marginal advance towards its fulfillment. Instead there has come about, over the years, a startlingly widening gulf between the rich and the poor.